Since the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act—better known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill—took effect in August 2009, more than 300,000 current and former service members have used the benefits to enroll in higher education in its first year of implementation. Numerous challenges were anticipated during implementation, largely because of the short preparation period for the new generous education benefit system to be rolled out.1
With support from Lumina Foundation for Education, ACE conducted a study to understand first-year implementation of the new GI Bill from the perspective of both students and campus administrators. It provides a snapshot of students’ experiences using the new benefits as well as earning academic credits for eligible military training. Data were gathered from focus group participants and survey respondents who were GI Bill beneficiaries residing in three states with large numbers of veterans (Arizona, Ohio, and Virginia).
The study found that despite the early implementation challenges many had expected, the expanded GI Bill is helping some veterans who would not otherwise be able to pursue higher education. About one in four veterans who answered the survey, as well as the majority of focus group participants, reported that their decision to enroll had been driven by this generous benefits program. Nonetheless, 38 percent of survey respondents and numerous focus group participants reported having difficulty understanding their GI Bill benefit options, as well as making the best choice for their needs.
Enrollment of students using the GI Bill has increased workloads of campus administrators by between 50–200 percent. Several challenges cited include working with the student accounts office to oversee payments and trouble-shooting errors with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), while learning to master details of the new law and the new software; resubmitting enrollment verifications to the VA each time a student adds or drops a course; and assisting students in understanding their benefit options.
Among the recommendations gathered from focus group and survey respondents:
The full report, Service Members in School: Military Veterans’ Experiences Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Pursuing Postsecondary Education, is available at www.acenet.edu, under the Center for Policy Analysis section of the Programs and Services heading.
- Expand the new benefit to active Guard Reservists.
- Simplify the program structure that reduces state variation in Yellow Ribbon program contributions.
- Build an online accounting system, available to both institutions and veterans, to keep track of benefit eligibility and payments.
- Prompt prospective students to indicate their veteran status when first requesting information from or applying to an institution.
- Provide resources to ensure that veterans program administrators, especially school certifying officials, have adequate training and support.
- Establish consistent and transparent credit transfer guidelines.
1. The current administration is already taking steps to refine the benefits. For recent changes, see ACE (2011), Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, available at www.acenet.edu/2010GIBill.